My Shot: Tom Weiskopf
Who was that masked man? An enigmatic hero on guilt, flying saucers, toy trains, hangovers and the horror of open-casket funerals.
Tom Weiskopf—Age: 59, Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Photo by Chip Simons
I can laugh at myself in some ways, but not when it comes to hitting bad shots. What's so funny about a shank?
I went to a Catholic high school. One day in chemistry class, a few of us took a silver dollar and heated it over a Bunsen burner until it almost glowed. Then we put it on an empty chair and asked a poor, unsuspecting kid, "Hey, is that your dollar?" Of course, it burned the kid's fingers when he tried to pick it up, which we thought was hilarious. But we didn't think it was funny for long. Within 15 minutes a priest was beating my bare backside with a hairbrush. I came away much worse off than the kid who picked up the silver dollar. To this day I have a great respect for priests.
The PGA Tour entertains people, helps them escape. I played a game for a living, but there was value in that. If all you thought about was your job, the economy, sick kids and terrorism, you'd go out of your mind.
My favorite actor? I've got to go with Clayton Moore. When I was little, "The Lone Ranger" dominated my life. The mask, the silver bullets, his friendship with Tonto, the little sermon at the end of each episode. That was very strong stuff. "Hi-yo, Silver, away!"
My dad took me to the 1957 U.S. Open at Inverness when I was 14. I wasn't a golfer yet. After we walked through the gate, he took me straight to the practice range and pointed out Sam Snead. The sound of Sam's iron shots, the flight of the ball, thrilled me. I was hooked even before I started playing.
The perfectionist who tries to play golf for a living usually ends up saying to hell with it. I'm a perfectionist, and I had some success, but only because I was persistent and had some talent. In the end the game ate me up inside, and I retired earlier than a lot of guys do. Perfectionists are determined to master things, and you can never master golf.
I stopped drinking 18 months ago. It was a serious problem for many years. It ruined my career. Every big mistake I've made can be traced back to drinking.
The most persistent feelings I have about my career are guilt and remorse. Sometimes they almost overwhelm me. I'm proud I won 15 times on tour and the 1973 British Open. I should have won twice that many, easy. I wasted my potential. I didn't utilize the talent God gave me.
Nothing cures a hangover like a milkshake followed by a cheeseburger, the greasier the better. First you drink the milkshake; it coats your stomach, and the sugar does you good. Then you eat the cheeseburger, slowly. The grease helps replace oxygen in your blood, the bread soaks up whatever's left of the alcohol, and the whole thing sits well in your stomach. All things in moderation? Damn, that's hard to do.
My friendship with Bert Yancey taught me how helpless a person with mental illness can be. Here was a brilliant man with a genius for golf, who was rendered almost useless by his manic-depressive condition. He taught me to have compassion for those who aren't as strong or healthy as you are.
Tour pros would rather go through an IRS audit than play in a pro-am. Publicly they say they love meeting interesting people and how great the pro-ams are. In truth, they loathe them. They're out there for six hours, see countless bad shots and hear the same stale jokes. If Tim Finchem announced next Monday that pro-ams were henceforth eliminated, he'd find 200 cases of champagne on his porch Tuesday morning.
Ben Hogan had no calluses on his hands. The first time I shook his hand I was amazed. His skin was tough as rawhide, but there was no buildup anywhere. That's a sign of how perfect his grip was. The fact he didn't wear a glove makes it even more amazing.
With beer and wine you've got a chance. The high-test stuff, forget it.
My take on the Senior PGA Tour: The golf is good, the toupees are awful. I may be bald, but I'll never glue one of those divots on my head, and that's a promise.
I'll be damned if I can understand open-casket funerals.
I can't tell you how much I hated practicing my putting. It bored me silly. I loved to hit balls, though. Golfers tend to practice the things they're already good at.
My dad worked for the Newburgh South Shore Railroad in Ohio. It was his job to hire and fire people; the stress it put on him was enormous. My dad was a sensitive man to begin with, and when he had to lay someone off he'd get depressed and go on a two-day drunk. The most terrible time of all came when he had to fire his best friend. There had been an accident in which a couple of people were killed, and my dad's friend was to blame. The guy was one year away from retirement and a full pension, and my dad fired him and the guy lost it all. This time my dad didn't get drunk for two days—he stayed drunk for three years. I suppose it was a harder, black-and-white world back then. Me, I couldn't fire my best friend. I'd find a way to get the guy to retirement so he could get his pension. But for my dad it was a matter of doing the correct thing, which also was the hard thing.
I've thought about that 40-foot putt Jack Nicklaus made to beat me at the '75 Masters a thousand times. It went up a slope and broke into the middle of the hole, an absolutely unmakable putt. I refuse to believe luck or some cosmic force had anything to do with it, because you can't compete against those things. It was pure skill all the way.
If I had to answer yes or no, I'd say flying saucers exist. They've hovered but haven't landed. Why would they? If you were an alien and were smart enough to design a flying saucer, why would you come here?
When people say they dream of playing in the U.S. Open someday, what they're really saying is, they'd like to be good enough to play. Trust me, the U.S. Open is not fun.
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Going head-to-head against Jack Nicklaus in a major was like trying to drain the Pacific Ocean with a teacup. You stand on the first tee knowing that your very best golf might not be good enough. You experience a sagging sort of pressure that just gets worse as the day wears on. The last four holes are always murder — the crowds, the difficulty of the golf course, the fatigue, the realization that Jack is not going to make a mistake — all of it hits you at once. Jack would get this look on his face that expressed deep suspicion in your ability to handle this, and in the end I rarely could.
Letter writing has become a lost art. Even the sweetest letters I get nowadays look rushed, and the penmanship isn't good. The British haven't lost their touch, though. Letters that land from Scotland and England are always elegant, thoughtful and beautiful. What have they got that we haven't?
The neatest thing about playing was my ability to surprise myself. Under pressure sometimes I'd face a real hard shot I'd never played before and pull it off just the way I envisioned it. It's a superhuman feeling. But I'll tell you something about these great shots players hit: A lot of times they end up close to the hole by accident. There's a good chance they didn't hit the shot the way they planned it. Only the player knows how good or bad a shot really was.
It's customary to say, "Good luck; play well" to your playing partners before you tee off. I always thought, "Thanks, that's very nice, but piss on luck."
If you wonder whether you have a drinking problem, you do.
My advice to Ty Tryon: Do not, under any circumstances or for any amount of money, play with a set of clubs you don't absolutely love. Find a set you like better than any other, and use them until you wear them out. And make sure you have an identical backup set ready for when the first set is trashed.
Jeanne and I divorced last year. It was my fault. My drinking led to behaviors that made me very unhappy with my life in general, and she was in the line of fire. Giving up alcohol has cleared my thinking, given me a new perspective, brought me to some realizations. Fortunately there is no animosity between the two of us. We talk and see each other often. She's the finest person I've ever met and has always been my biggest cheerleader.
My most prized possession? Some time ago I went over to Jeanne's to pick up some stuff. One box was particularly heavy and rattled when I shook it. I went home and opened it, and lo and behold, it was my Lionel train set I had when I was a kid. The set was in unbelievable condition. All the cars were in their original boxes, the pieces of track bunched together just the way I left it 50 years ago. Only the transformer was a mess. I took the whole thing to a hobby shop in Montana to be reconditioned. When the guy saw what I had, he almost fainted. He said the boxes alone were worth a small fortune. The set wasn't new when I received it. My dad got it for Christmas when he was young, and he passed it on to me. I never passed it along to my son, Eric, because I forgot I had it. But I'm going to pass it on to my first grandson, whenever he comes along. The train isn't for display. I'll tell him the story behind it, let him know who his great-grandfather was, help him put it together. Then we'll get down on the floor and play with it.